In the old days, job-seekers sometimes included reference letters with their resumes and cover letters in their job applications. With the rise of the internet and email making it easier for employers to contact references directly, employers began asking for reference lists – a list of references’ names together with their contact information. Today, while the reference list is a job search essential, reference letters are often dismissed as outdated.
For jobseekers, forgetting reference letters is a big mistake. They can still play a critical role in your job search. (Or if you want to go high-tech, LinkedIn References from your bosses, suppliers, customers, and colleagues will prove equally useful.)
Why? Two reasons.
First, preparing a reference letter enhances your reference’s memories of significant incidents in their dealings with you. When your references have penned letters that outline your important contributions to a key project, they will be more likely to remember those details when a prospective employer calls.
Second, you can mine the letters for quotations that will add punch to your resume. Claiming that you have great accomplishments or people skills is one thing, but when your resume makes those claims in the words of a customer or manager, those recommendations are taken very seriously indeed, even before your reference confirms them. (Don’t forget to add to your resume the necessary quotation marks and a footnote sourcing the quotation in a reference letter or LinkedIn Reference.)
What information should your contacts provide in their reference letters?
They should include their name, their contact information, their position title at the time they worked with you, and how they related to you (customer, boss, colleague, vendor). Next, they should describe their view of one or more of the (essential and transferable) ways you helped the organization. And, if possible, these stories should also show off your work ethic and your team playing skills.
Have them sum up the letter with a short statement summarizing the potential benefits you will bring to your next employer.
Jobseekers who take advantage of reference letters or LinkedIn References will soon find themselves called for more interviews.